premeditated meals, part 2

Here they are — in no particular order — my three FAVORITE kitchen appliances! Please know that the amazon pages listed are affiliate links and I may collect a portion of sales if items are clicked through and purchased from here.

Without further ado, the INSTANT POT!

So the Instant Pot is getting a LOT of buzz right now. But anything that can cook 2 lbs of ground beef and carrots and potatoes from stone cold raw to ready-for-dinner in about a half hour is going to get buzz. And it’s well deserved! This one appliance can do the work of so many others. It’s a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a yogurt maker (one some models) and more! One of my favorite features is the ability to sauté in the pot before doing any pressure or slow cooking. All of a sudden you’ve eliminated the need for another pan to say, sear meat or carmelize onions.

Another great thing about the Instant Pot is that once it’s done pressure cooking, it can keep your food warm for an extended period of time. This is great for our family because when Jason’s working nights, he’ll leave our house between 4 and 4:30. If the rest of us aren’t ready for dinner quite that early, he can still take his portion and leave the rest in the pot to stay warm. There have been so many times when I haven’t started a slow cooker early enough for him to eat before leaving, and since this cooks food so quickly, it’s usually not an issue.

Cons: It IS bulky. If you don’t want to leave this on your counter, you may have to search a bit to find appropriately-sized cupboard space. It’s also pricey — consider how often you’ll use the Instant Pot before taking the plunge (for the record, I do get my money’s worth).

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Next up… the AIR FRYER!

OK, I’m going to be honest, I’m waiting for the internet to blow up about this thing. It is amazing. It “fries” your food using a tiny fraction of the oil typical fryers need, and it does this using hot circulating air. You can go pretty simple with the Air Fryer — throw in some sliced potatoes brushed lightly with the oil of your choice and in about ten minutes you have some pretty awesome French fries. BUT! The Air Fryer can do so much more than this. To date, I’ve made copycat Chick-Fil-A chicken patties, carne asada (yes, 1.5 lbs of flank steak!), DONUTS (work in progress, but I mean, they got eaten), and tandoori chicken. There are just so many things you can make with this thing, and I feel like nobody talks about it.

If you like to buy frozen foods (mini pizzas, French fries, other appetizers), the Air Fryer will crisp those up faster and better than your oven can. And while there is a range of temperatures at which you can cook different foods, the Air Fryer does not require the long pre-heating time the oven does.

Cons: Like the Instant Pot, it’s bulky and it’s pricey. If you struggle with finding time for cooking, I do recommend one or both, however. They do speed up the process!

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And finally… the ZOJIRUSHI BREAD MAKER!

I’m going to start out by listing the con for this one — it’s expensive! I absolutely LOVE this bread maker, but please know there are much more reasonably priced bread makers out there. I can’t speak to them, however, because this is the only bread maker I’ve ever owned.

I LOVE homemade bread, but it really is an event. It can take up almost the whole day, and if, at the end of the process, you learn your yeast is bad, you’re toast. (Pun totally intended.) It takes me less than ten minutes to throw all of my bread ingredients in the bread maker and press the “start” button. Or, if I’m heading to bed and want to wake up to the aroma of freshly baked bread (which is something I highly recommend), I can schedule the cooking so it will finish just as my alarm is going off. So far, I’ve made white bread, whole wheat bread, and banana bread, but there are just so many other options. Every loaf has been amazing and delicious. Now I’m kind of drooling and need to make bread tonight.

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My runner-up favorites can be found below:

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Happy cooking, premeditated family!

la la lunchbox app review

Hello, friends!

The time has come for my LaLa Lunchbox Meal Planning App review. I’m not being paid or otherwise compensated for my opinions, but I wanted to get this info to anyone who packs lunches for their kiddos. It’s a game changer!

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In the words of Angelica Schuyler in the groundbreaking Hamilton: “I’m about to change your life.”

The beginning of this school year was my five year old, John’s, first year of kindergarten. That meant it was our first year of eating breakfast and getting ready in time to catch the school bus, and of course — our first year of packing school lunches. Never fear! I was armed with pinterest pages and instagram sites full of ideas. I bought cute sandwich cutters for PB&J’s, cute cheese cutters for homemade lunchables, and stocked up on cute containers (purchased in doubles, so my forgetful John would be covered if he left anything at school). We were ready!

Except our school is nut free, John “doesn’t like cheese and crackers at school, only at home,” and almost every delightfully shaped object came back home. One day, he said, “I really just want regular ham and cheese sandwiches everyday.” Oh, defeat.

I made ham and cheese sandwiches everyday. I threw in whatever fruits and veggies we had, and they usually came home. Eventually, the sandwich started coming home, with fewer and fewer bites taken out of it.

I knew how to send healthy lunches.

I didn’t know how to get my five year old to eat those healthy lunches.

Enter LaLa Lunchbox!

Download the app to your smartphone and your child has the ability to pick pre-loaded foods from different categories (fruit, vegetable, protein, snack) they would like to see in their lunch. You can control the food options — my first mistake was failing to remove “watermelon” from the list when I first gave the app to John, but then we had a nice talk about seasonal foods in Michigan (watermelon is not around in January).

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Use your finger to drag the foods you want from the list at the bottom to the monster’s mouth. Most fun meal planning ever!

As you can see, John chose six items (SIX ITEMS!? you might say, but fear not! you can change this number!) for this lunch, with an apple and a banana as two of his choices. Here’s where we can get creative. I love the Bentgo Kids Lunchbox (found here) because the compartments are the perfect size for a lower-elementary sized tummy. I take John’s choices and fit them into our lunchbox the best way I can. I don’t add anything extra, because I want him to eat the balanced meal he chose.

Here’s what the above plan looks like in the Bentgo and ready for school:

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Cute little banana monster, eh? John: “I liked looking at that banana… but not eating it. Can I just have normal bananas from now on?” YES. You’re killing me, kid.

All together we had yogurt (protein), cauliflower (vegetable), dried apples (fruit), banana (fruit), pretzels (snack), and a graham cracker (snack). I always send along a water bottle with his lunches. And guess how much of this came back? Nothing! (Even if he just preferred to look at the banana monster… okay, buddy).

(Also: do you love that little card above the banana? It’s a Lunchbox Love card, and you can find them at sayplease.com.)

I have been giving John the app to plan his meals on the weekends. The app organizes all of the selections into one grocery list for you, so you don’t have to sift through each day to figure out what to buy.

My favorite takeaway from this whole app (besides organization, hooray!) is that John really has a say in the lunches he eats, and he begins to understand how to put healthy meals together. 

If you’re on board and want more, there is a Breakfast app as well! Exact same concept. Pro tip: maybe remove bacon every once in a while, unless you want to start out every single day as a fry cook.

That’s it for our review! Will you be grabbing a LaLa Lunchbox app or two? Join me in lunch planning fun.